Albion Interactive History / Events / 1936

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Events / Starr Commonwealth

1936 January 8, Emily Jewel Clark School fire

According to Mrs. Ann Eaton, Starr’s secretary at that period, unexpected late enrollment shad overtaxed cottage capacities on the campus.Consequently, two of the older boys had been quartered temporarily in a ground floor room in theEmily Jewel Clark School Building. Though designed primarily for academic uses, the structure also housed Starr’s office, the bookkeeping department and the public relations center. In most respects, it was the hub of the campus.

The night of January 8, 1936 was bitterly cold, so the two boys housed in the school turned up the space heater between their cots. at about 4:30am, a blanket caught fire, and in minutes the room was ablaze. After a brief but futile bout with the flames, the boys escaped unscathed and rousedUncle Floyd.

According to the account in the Albion Evening Recorder, nothing went right in combatingthe fire. The rural telephone was out of order, so it was half an hour before word reached the Albion fire department. From nearby Marshall, the “county pumper” was even later in arriving “due to a weak battery.” Since there were no hydrants on the campus to supply water for thehoses, the small electric pump on one truck soon failed from overuse. Even the icebound lake lay tantalizing beyond reach.

Meanwhile of course, both the boys and the workers in other building had been routed from their beds when the blaze was discovered. Starr was already at the steps to meet them,plans in mind to salvage all he could with their help. According to the newspaperaccount, his young charges were the heroes of the day. “The boys of the Commonwealth worked valiantly and saved the greater part of the building’sfurnishings. Much of the school equipment, such as chairs, books, and the like, were removed from the structure. Valued paintings which Mr. Starr and hisassociates had gathered were believed to have been saved. In addition many of the office files were removed to safety. Other vital records of the Commonwealth were stored in the office staff, which was dragged from the ruins later and found to be undamaged.

Years later one of these boys wrote an essay on “My Uncle Floyd” for a college English course. Despite thepassage of time, details of that flame filled dawn were still fresh in his memory. “Even with the scene of twisted girders and devastation before him,he wrote, “Uncle Floyd was thinking of prayer. As he turned to leave for a bite of breakfast, he said to the boys, ‘Well, tomorrow we will have to begin praying for a new school building.” The young man’s theme concluded, “Little need be said about a faith like that.”

After the fire, Starr again set up his office in the front room of Gladsome, with his desk at one end and that of his secretary at the other. Since Newton Hall housed younger boys, most of the elementary classes were held there. In the main, however, it was the new building which rescued the academic program. Less than ideal for most classroom purposes, it was still”bettr’n nothin,” as the boys put it.

Source: Keith Fennimore. FaithMade Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan:Starr Commonwealth. 1988.